Alleged $4.6m Theft: Bayelsa Writes Online Publishers, Heads for Court

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Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The Bayelsa State Government on Tuesday wrote some online publishers, demanding a retraction of a report that the Government House Chief Accountant, Ritchie Etonye, absconded with $4.6 million belonging to Governor Henry Seriake Dickson.

In a letter dated September 6, with Ref. MOJ/SG/PS/111/2016, obtained by journalists in Yenagoa, the Solicitor-General of Bayelsa State, Preye Agedah, warned that the state would explore all legal means to ensure that the stories were retracted.
“Any failure, neglect or refusal to comply with this demand will leave us with no option than to take out criminal and civil process to seek appropriate redress,” the letter noted.

The government, through the Solicitor-General, noted that as the public and the publishers of the news items are now aware, “there is and there was never any truth whatsoever in the said publication.”
Agedah maintained that the Government of Bayelsa State never lost the sum of $4.6 million or any such sum as alleged “as no such money is missing from the coffers of the state.”

He added that there was therefore no reason for any report to the police and none was made either by the governor or the Government of Bayelsa State for the alleged sum of $4.6 million or any other sum.
At the time the publication was made, the letter noted,  Etonye was with the governor in Ondo State and subsequently in Port Harcourt where the governor had gone on a condolence visit to Mr. Ritchie Etonye’s father whose son Tamarakuro Etonye (Ritchie’s elder brother) had passed away a few days earlier.

“The police search of Etonye’s private residence in Yenagoa was orchestrated by mischief makers on a false tip that arms were stockpiled therein. The purpose of this false tip was to implicate not only Etonye but the governor who was the ultimate target of the false and malicious information to the police.

“It will interest you to note that the Police have since discovered that they were dispatched on a wild goose chase by the instigators of that search wherein valuable time and effort required to fight crime was dissipated on a mere hoax,” the letter read.
It noted that contrary to the report of the online news platforms, the governor never ordered the search of Etonye’s residence, thus making their report completely false and baseless.

The government stated that besides the issue of defamation, the publication also constituted an incitement against public order, noting that to publish that a princely sum of $4.6 million had been stolen from the common patrimony of the people of Bayelsa State, was misinformation with capacity to incite public unrest.

“It is on the above premises, we hereby demand that you retract your false and defamatory publication and tender an apology to the Government of Bayelsa State and its officials who have been defamed by your publication.
“Take notice that any failure, neglect or refusal to comply with this demand will leave us with no option than to take out criminal and civil process to seek appropriate redress,” the state government warned.